A Farewell to Arms (1929) is set during the Italian campaign of the First World War, written as a first-person account by American soldier Lieutenant Frederic Henry.
With WWI bustling away in the background, Henry indulges in battles, gets injured, and eventually begins a love affair with one Catherine Barkley.
The book makes us think of the film the English Patient for some reason, as there are similar themes of love and loss in what is another timeless piece of poignant and dramatic writing from the man Hemingway.
A Farewell to Arms
A handsome young Hemingway did indeed fight during World War I as an ambulance driver in Italy.
This is where his experiences fueled his novel, which is one of his most famous works – it also secured his status as a leading American writer of his era, with his story of wartime bravery, strife, resistance, and crushingly emotional ending paving the way for cinematic feature films to play with audience’s emotions.
Hemingway, of course, had a rather distinct writing style which was innovative and unique at the time, although it’s been noted his spelling abilities were surprisingly poor (not that it really matters).
His style consisted of short sharp sentences. Like this, to really hammer home the drama. For without drama and conflict things would be dull. Dull is bad. Without the good type of bad, there would be no good.
He also abstained from using big words – words like abstained, so his writing style is infinitely accessible.
Indeed, it’s all about the storytelling – instead of trying to show off with words which make you hit the dictionary, he formulated striking stories, typically with a biting edge to the ending which leaves readers with a sense of loss, or some sort of epiphany.
A Farewell To Arms manages both, as mentioned up there above on the first paragraph. It’s an emotional ride but, for anyone who’s read war literature before, you’ll know what’s in store.
Hemingway did, at least, add a humane edge through the love story which develops, which makes the novel’s ending so tragic, but ultimately so descriptive of the hellish mess that was the First World War.
Hemingway in Later Years
Something of a macho figure who liked to stylise himself as a heroic manly man, Hemingway was around in WWII and fashioned himself as part of the cause (when, in reality, he spent most of his time drinking in bars).
During his life he enjoyed shooting animals with big guns (i.e. game hunting), wrote a book about bullfighting, flew planes, and drank extremely heavily.
His brilliance as a writer was matched by his brilliance as a drinker. Rising early each day, he’d write only 500 words a day (not a bad method, frankly, as over two months you’d amass some 30,000 words – half a novel – keep it in mind if you’re thinking of writing one) and then commence his volatile drinking spree.
Later in life, he suddenly became involved in a series of calamities, including several air crashes (one of which led the world’s press to print a story that he’d died).
His alcoholism caught up with him, however, and plagued with health problems he blew his brains out with a shotgun aged 61 in, ironically, 1961. A dramatic life reflected in his works.